Quick Responses from Lacrosse Committees

June 1, 2006

On April 5, as the university waited for the police investigation of the lacrosse team to unfold, President Richard H. Brodhead announced the creation of five committees to look into the larger issues that had been raised by the off-campus party. A month later, the first three committee reports were in hand.

One committee's charge was to investigate the behavior of the lacrosse team over the years, excluding the current rape allegations, and to determine whether "significant corrective actions are called for." In their report, committee members said that members of the Duke men's lacrosse team are "academically and athletically responsible students" and were not out of control before their party of March 13. But, the report added, "a large number of the members of the team have been socially irresponsible when under the influence of alcohol." The report said the team's "pack" culture makes its conduct stand out. Committee chair, James E. Coleman

Jr., a Duke Law School professor, described this conduct as "deplorable but pretty typical of what you see with other Duke students who abuse alcohol."

The committee further said that administrators responsible for the discipline of students were generally aware of the lacrosse players' conduct and said there was little evidence that any concerns were passed along to former coach Mike Pressler. In general, the committee found the university's approach to student misconduct "informal to the point of being casual. The result is a process that is arbitrary and often ineffective," reflecting an "ambivalence toward drinking and the conduct it spawns."

The committee "found no compelling evidence to support claims that these players are racist or have a record of sexual violence," Coleman said. It recommended that Duke continue the men's lacrosse program with careful oversight, that an explicit code of conduct be established for athletes, and that the university bolster its alcohol policy.

A second committee, chaired by Prasad Kasibhatla, associate professor of environmental chemistry, reviewed Duke's judicial practices for students. It, too, focused on alcohol abuse as "the major underlying factor" in student misconduct in all settings and on the inconsistent enforcement of the university's current alcohol policy. It recommended a presidential-level initiative to address this issue as part of the broader Campus Culture Initiative.

The committee said the Duke Community Standard (DCS) articulates Duke's values and behavioral expectations. But, the committee added, the DCS is perceived by students and faculty members as applying mainly to academic situations, not social ones, and to interactions at Duke and not in the broader community. The report called for a set of programs to promote the "institutional values articulated in the DCS," which should be broadened to include student behavior beyond Duke's boundaries. Despite "noteworthy steps" that Duke has taken recently to deter off-campus misconduct, the committee called for a new code of conduct and judicial policies to guide students living off-campus. The committee supported an increase in faculty engagement in the university judicial process as a means of connecting the university's academic and nonacademic spheres.

A third committee said Duke's administration was "much too slow in understanding and addressing the serious and highly sensitive issues raised by the rape allegations and associated events." The committee found "no evidence, however, that this delay represented any effort to cover up the problems revealed by these events, to deceive anyone, or to play down the seriousness of the issues raised."

The slowness was primarily the result of "errors of judgment" in two areas. The first was "a major failing in communications, and here the Duke Police Department and those to whom it reports bear primary responsibility," the committee said. The second was that key Duke administrators "seriously underestimated the seriousness of the allegations," relying too heavily on initial reports from members of the Durham police force that the alleged victim "kept changing her story and was not credible."

Julius Chambers, a veteran civil-rights attorney and former chancellor of North Carolina Central University, and William G. Bowen, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton University, led the committee.

Echoing other findings, the report pointed to "long-standing problems of campus discipline" and said "the lacrosse team was seen by at least some part of the Duke/Durham community as a manifestation of a white, elitist, arrogant subculture that was both indulged and self-indulgent." It said "the athletics department, and certainly those responsible for the lacrosse team, did not oversee properly the conduct of members of the team or succeed in instilling proper values," adding that "clearer and firmer actions in earlier days might well have reduced the likelihood that the party of March 13-14 would have unfolded as it did."

At the same time, the committee praised Brodhead for his "unequivocal acceptance of responsibility for addressing the myriad issues raised by the allegations and the public reaction to them" once he began to learn what had occurred.